Busisiwe Victoria Mhlongo, popularly known as Busi Mhlongo, was born on 28 October 1947 at Inanda, near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
She began her singing career in choirs and concert groups while still at school. Mhlongo was discovered by a Gallo Music (a recording company) talent scout. She then moved to Johannesburg, where she made a recording under the name Victoria Mhlongo. Her 1963 version of My Boy Lollipop became a national hit and her career started in earnest. Mhlongo performed in musicals and as a soloist with several jazz groups, including the famous Early Mabuza’s Big Five.
In 1968, Mhlongo travelled to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) with Alfred Herberts’ African Follies. Some Portuguese musicians who were touring Mozambique at the time were so impressed that they invited her to join their band. She then left the African Follies and went to Lisbon, Portugal where she performed with Conjunto Juan Paulo, a Portuguese army band.
After a brief period in Portugal, Mhlongo and her husband, South African musician Early Mabusa, relocated to London in 1972. While there, Mhlongo recorded with other South African exiles including Dudu Pukwana, Julian Bahula, and Lucky Ranku and sang with the popular Afro-jazz band Osibisa.
Mhlongo returned to South Africa in 1979 during an African tour with the singer Letta Mbulu. For much of the 1980s, Mhlongo based herself in The Netherlands where she became the darling of a burgeoning “world music” audience. Her groundbreaking performance came when she joined the Gambian band Ifang Bondi at the African Roots Festival in Amsterdam. Her performance led to an invitation to perform with Salif Keita and Manu Dibango at the prestigious African Music Festival in Delft in 1989. Mhlongo's debut album, Barbentu, was reissued internationally in 1995.
The return of exiles in 1990 signalled Mhlongo’s return to her home in KwaZulu-Natal. She formed Twasa, a band of South African musicians who toured Holland and Belgium to great acclaim.
Mhlongo was considered by many to be a virtuoso singer, dancer and composer whose music defies categorisation. Drawing on various South African styles such as mbaqanga, maskandi, marabi and traditional Zulu music, fused with contemporary elements from jazz, funk, rock, gospel, rap, opera, reggae and West African music, she produced a fresh and exciting sound, complemented only by her spirited performances on stage. Her infectious music and singing style have a universal appeal and her lyrics carry powerful and poignant messages of social commentary.
Mhlongo has worked and collaborated with other artists such as Hugh Masekela, Dr Phillip Tabane, Mabe Thobejane, and many other South African music legends.
In 2000, Mhlongo scooped three awards at the FNB South African Music Awards for Best Female Artist, Best Adult Contemporary Album (Africa), and Best African Pop Album. She also won the Kora Award, which is given annually for musical achievement in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2007, Mhlongo fell ill.. A South African music benefit concert was held in October 2007 by the South African Broadcasting Corporation to honour and celebrate Mhlongo’s birthday as well as to raise funds for her hospital bills. Her album Urban Zulu was a novel exmple of traditional Maskandi sung by a Zulu woman to an international audience.
Busi Mhlongo passed away on 15 June 2010.
On 27 April 2011, the State President, Jacob G Zuma, posthumously conferred Busisiwe Victoria “Busi” Mhlongo with the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for her outstanding contribution to South African music.